The threat of worsening disasters from climate change has been unwavering in its influence on today's planners. The necessity of integrating hazard mitigation has firmly embedded itself in their day-to-day work.
Because of this, planners have become increasingly aware of the importance of adapting the built environment to hazards and, more than ever, are integrating at least one aspect of hazard mitigation in their community plans. However, even the most prepared communities will still have to face the unique, time-sensitive challenges of a post-disaster environment, easily overwhelming planning departments and their staff.
In an effort to better support planners facing disaster recovery, APA and the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University partnered for a two-year research project, funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Cooperating Technical Partners program, that will result in a "Disaster Recovery Guide for Planning Practitioners."
Phase One of the project involved designing and executing a mixed-methods approach for collecting evidence about what planners want and need from an "at-your-fingertips" recovery guide. The two primary research questions asked how planners perceive the disaster recovery process and the role of planners in it, and what planners need to know about disaster recovery to better support their communities.
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Phase One yielded two reports that detail the research findings.
The Quantitative Survey Report contains the results of an online survey of a random sample of 1,000 APA members, with a response rate of just under 200 participants.
The Qualitative Interview Report summarizes the responses of 33 interviewees, which included 11 planners and 22 allied professionals.
For a general overview of the project and the major findings, view the Executive Summary.
The Quantitative Survey Report found that few participants had experience making plans for post-disaster recovery and do not regularly use existing recovery resources. Although the research suggests that there is currently a lack of education and training for disaster recovery planning, participants were receptive to future educational resources, specifically workshops, conferences, symposia, and other interactive training and tools.
In the Qualitative Interview Report, themes similar to the survey findings emerged with more specific examples that portray the recovery context today's planners are dealing with.
Across the board, coordination and collaboration at various points in the recovery process are lacking. Notably, planners do not often perceive themselves — and are not perceived by other professionals — as being central to the disaster recovery process, and this inevitably leads to a last-minute scramble for leadership.
Finally, in the post-disaster environment, planners are often tasked with efficiently coordinating an influx of volunteers and aid — a task that might be unusual for planners who often only coordinate small departments or public meetings. This is an example of how planners need support in translating their existing skills to larger-scale, time-compressed disaster recovery situations.
Based on the findings of both reports, the research indicates that the forthcoming disaster recovery guide should focus on:
- Setting the standard that planning and allied professionals are — and should be — leading disaster recovery
- Emphasizing how recovery and resilience are compatible with daily planning practices
- Developing formal peer-to-peer learning opportunities and planner-specific training for disaster recovery
- Building stronger social networks of recovery and disaster professionals
- Creating accountability measures for the inclusion of equity, health, and housing components in pre-disaster recovery plans
- Streamlining the process of gathering sources of funding, data, and community input in post-disaster recovery environments
Phase Two of this multi-year project is now under way. APA will be drafting and writing the final guide, taking into consideration the research findings. This will be followed by evaluating the guide in the field through an APA Community Planning Assistance Team (CPAT). The CPAT program provides specialized, place-based technical assistance to communities that lack the resources to address planning challenges.
In the next few months, APA will be locating a community in need to collaborate with. Travel for CPAT volunteers will be funded with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Top image: Phones with maps. Photo in the public domain.
About the Author
Alexsandra Gomez is a research intern at APA.